Virtual Memories Show 407:
Virginia Postrel

“The history of textiles engages with the history of technology and science in interesting ways; it engages with economics and culture similarly.”

Journalist and scholar Virginia Postrel rejoins the show to celebrate her brand-new book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World (Basic Books). We get into how textiles intersect with technology, culture, commerce, politics, and more, the long gestation of this book & the dress that started it all, humanity’s textile-amnesia, and Virginia’s reversal of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of technology. We talk about the textile skills she learned (or tried to learn) in prep for the book and how she’s now the owner of several looms, the extensive travel she undertook for research, how the book wouldn’t have been possible during the pandemic, the notion of civilization as both survival technology and a cumulative process, how social technologies were just as key as physical ones to our development, and more! Give it a listen! And go read The Fabric of Civilization!

“It’s fascinating to focus on the technology and the production of textiles, but the whole reason that we do all that stuff is because we want to have cloth to use. It’s all about the consumers, ultimately.”

“In the past couple of decades, we’ve had the first truly global civilization. There were many different cultures, but a shared civilization is something new. And now it’s in danger of coming to an end after a short life.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Virginia Postrel is an award-winning journalist and independent scholar. She is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and has been a columnist for the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. She is the author of the highly acclaimed The Substance of Style and The Power of Glamour. Her research is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She lives in Los Angeles. Her new book is The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World, from Basic Books.

Follow Virginia on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo, and go listen to our 2013 conversation.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Virginia by Sonya Isenberg. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 406:
David Shields

“So much of American history has been a fairy-tale children’s history, and so much of Trump’s dealing with COVID was a Norman Vincent Peale ‘think positively and it’ll all go away.’ So much of the connection is an absence of reality hunger, not to name-check my own work.”

In 2018, essayist David Shields wrote Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention (Thought Catalog). For Election Day 2020, we decided to revisit that book, how he would write it differently now, and why Trump is the Bizarro World’s Personal Essayist #1. I prompt David with the adventitious sight of a car that bore the message, “Compassion Is Another Word For Control,” and we go off to the conversational races, talking politics, the superior messaging tactics of the right-wing, concerns about far-left cultural policies, faith in radical skeptical intelligence, the absence of reality hunger vis-a-vis the history of America, why rage isn’t a primary emotion but rather a cover for fear and pain, the lessons of Howard Stern, and why “An Intervention” is not for Trump but for the American people. Give it a listen! And go read David’s books!

“I’m really interested in strength, weakness, confessionality, brokenness, and woundedness, and obviously Trump and I approach those in very different ways.”

“The conversation is not getting this guy right. In terms of the left media coverage, it’s wrong in the sense that it’s just the taxi-meter running on their moral indignation, covering Trump 90% to Biden’s 10%.”

“It’s like Antonio Porchia said: ‘Man is weak and when he makes strength his profession, he makes himself weaker.'”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger (recently named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade by LitHub), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes (NYTBR Editors’ Choice). Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention was published in 2018; The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power appeared in 2019. James Franco’s film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which Shields co-wrote and co-stars in, was released in 2017 (available now on Amazon Prime, iTunes/Apple TV, Vudu, Vimeo, Kanopy, and Google Play). Shields wrote, produced, and directed Marshawn Lynch: A History, a 2019 documentary about Marshawn Lynch’s use of silence, echo, and mimicry as key tools of resistance (rave reviews in the New Yorker, Nation, and dozens of other publications; film festival awards all over the world; available now on Sundance TV/AMC, Amazon Prime, iTunes/Apple TV, Google Play, etc.). A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions, Shields has published fiction and nonfiction in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Salon, Slate, Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Believer, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Best American Essays. His work has been translated into two dozen languages.

Follow David on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of David by someone else. Photo of us from 2019 by me. They’re on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 402:
Darryl Pinckney

“The vote has to be rethought in our American hearts as a radical act, because so many people don’t want you to vote. We have to think about the vote as the center of American culture and American purpose, that cuts across lines of identity that people have drawn so vividly.”

Writer and cultural critic Darryl Pinckney joins the show to celebrate the new edition of Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (NYRB) and the paperback of Busted in New York and Other Essays (Picador). We talk about revisiting his Obama-era writings in the post-2016 world, the importance of the vote and the question of whether there’s a Black vote, or Black voters. We discuss his surprise at the persistence of makeup of the BLM protests, his place in the historical chain and the moment he felt out of touch, and his history at the New York Review of Books and its roots in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We also get into the fractured relationship between Jews and Blacks (following their close ties during the civil rights movement), the companionship of books during the pandemic, the commodification of the arts, the memoir he’s working on about Elizabeth Hardwick and 1970s NYC, and more, including an image I’ve pondered for years: Jesse Jackson’s tears the night of Obama’s election in 2008. Give it a listen! And go read Blackballed and Busted in New York!

“Our generation didn’t think we were getting older the way we saw the previous generation get older. People made the mistake of thinking their children were their friends. They’re not; they’re your judges.”

“The past is so case by case, there’s no one rule for confronting it. Because there’s no end to what you can find out.”

“We have a lot of books, most of which I’ve not read. Now that I’m aware time is running out, I’m more enchanted by the book as an object than ever. The companionship of a book at a time like this means a lot to me.”

“None of this was ever certain. That things worked out the way they did is the surprise.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of the novel High Cotton (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and the works of nonfiction, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, and Busted in New York and Other Essays. He is a recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for Distinguished Prose from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Banner photo of Darryl by Dominique Pinckney; office photo by by Rich Gilligan. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 401:
John Keene

“How do we think about the past in this country? What tends to be erased? Once we start to dig deeper into a story, we don’t wind up just in one rabbit-hole, but a warren of sorts.”

Author, translator, professor and MacArthur Fellow John Keene joins the show to talk about how voices are found and how they’re erased. We get into how Benedictine monks started him on the road to translation, which languages he wishes he had, the perils of knowing just enough of a language to get in trouble, and how translation trains one to let go of ego. We discuss his amazing but uncharacterizable fiction collection, Counternarratives (New Directions), along with his powerful essay, Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness, and how to explore Black representation across cultural boundaries. We also get into the performative aspects of BLM by corporations and institutions and would it would take to transform into real change, the impact of his MacArthur “genius” grant, why he’s trying to move away from Counternarratives’ narrative density in his new work, and more. Give it a listen! And go read Counternarratives!

“With George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and you go on throughout the list, and these moments remind us of how much still needs to be done, in terms of rethinking how this society functions, and our relationship to each other.”

“With Counternarratives, I wanted to write a book that was grounded in specificity but also pulled away from the self, from myself. Which runs counter to today’s trend for autofiction.”

“There’s no frictionless change.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

John R. Keene was born in St. Louis in 1965. He graduated from the St. Louis Priory School, Harvard College, and New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. In 1989, Mr. Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops. He is the author of Annotations, and Counternarratives, both published by New Directions, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer. He is the recipient of many awards and fellowships—including a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, and the Whiting Foundation Prize for fiction. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.

Follow John on Twitter and Instagram and harass him about blogging more.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of John by Nina Subin. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 397:
Daniel Mendelsohn

“Each of my four books is secretly exploring a genre: lyric, epic, novel, and I’m not even sure what this one is, but I wrote it entirely to please myself.”

With Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate (UVA Press), Daniel Mendelsohn has written one of my favorite books of 2020. We get into Homer’s use of Ring Composition and how it shapes Three Rings, how this book grew out of his experience writing An Odyssey, why he chose François Fénelon, Eric Auerbach, and WG Sebald as the three exiled subjects of his book, and how we understand the relationship between “what happened” and “the story of what happened” (that is, how narration changes the nature of facts). We also get into how he managed to compress and capture just about all of his major themes in his briefest book, why Auerbach disliked ring composition, and what it says about Homeric vs. Hebrew — or optimistic vs. pessimistic — styles of story, how every story has more stories embedded in it, and why Istanbul may serve as the fusion of Athens & Jerusalem. We also get into Daniel’s pandemic experience and coping mechanisms for anxiety and dread, his mom’s involvement in Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about the Holocaust in America, why translation is like a crossword puzzle for him, the negatives of focusing on STEM to the detriment of the liberal arts, and how we can both relate to Auerbach’s comment, “If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might have never reached the point of writing.” Give it a listen! And go read Three Rings! (& check out our previous conversation!)

“I was very attracted to the idea of the way in which their own wandering lives ended up being analogs for the narratives they ended up being interested in.”

“For the writer, anything is a subject. Even nothing is a subject, so to speak.”

“Colleges are going to abandon the humanities and go for more STEM stuff than ever, because it’s ’employable’. The irony is that NEVER have we needed the humanities more, because that’s the stuff that tells you how to deal with these crises.”

TUNEIN LINK TK

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TuneIn, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays, and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture, and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones. His new book is Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate

There’s a longer version at his website.

Follow Daniel on Twitter and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Daniel by me. It’s on my instagram.